What does the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States of America mean for the recovery community and the issues we support? What kind of effect will the state of the economy have on the priorities of the incoming Obama administration and on the goals of the new Congress? These are all valid questions worth following in the coming weeks, months and years.
Where does the recovery community stand? As many of you know, the ‘Paul Wellstone/Pete Domenici Parity Bill’ was attached to the ‘Financial Bailout Bill’ Congress passed earlier this fall and the President signed. It was a major victory for our community and the many people who need help, but what now? How will the Obama administration implement the law? Will the Obama administration be friendlier to the recovery community in terms of funding and support programs? It seems as though ‘yes’ is the answer, but the economy and the fiscal crisis in general may have something to say about it and other new ideas President-elect Obama has.
Our country faces the possibility of losing our ‘AAA’ bond rating. This would significantly impair future spending, borrowing, and basically all types of commerce and economy. It does not take much to realize what it means for the recovery community and other groups and interests vying for funds and support. The government: federal, state, and local would have to begin serious prioritizing of where, how and when to spend money.
California, like many of the states, is battling a major revenue shortfall and a budget deficit. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a series of spending cuts coupled with tax increases, among them a temporary increase in the state sales tax and an increase in the alcohol tax: a nickel per drink on beer, wine and spirits. The increase in the alcohol tax would generate $878 million to combat budget woes. The political climate in California has been tepid towards any tax increases: the governor failed to garner any Republican support for his tax increase package over the summer. The silver lining in this proposal is some of the funds will be dedicated to alcohol related issues, according to the Marin Institute.
NCADD-NJ was at the forefront of a similar policy debate, here in New Jersey, in the spring of 2006. A strong grassroots movement, the Just a Nickel campaign, was instituted to advocate for raising New Jersey’s alcohol tax to raise revenue for treatment and addiction services. This movement resulted in Governor Jon Corzine putting something more than “just a nickel” in his first budget. The Governor proposed a five cents per gallon increase on beer and a ten cents per gallon increase on wine and spirits. Ultimately, the proposal failed in the legislature, but the groundwork was laid for future endeavors.
Fast forward to today. A policy window for our issues has opened up in New Jersey. Recently, the New Jersey Senate held a hearing to look into the alcohol polices on New Jersey’s college campuses. Members of the Amethyst Initiative testified about their goals. College and university officials from across the state testified about their alcohol policies and the behaviors of their student bodies in relation to those policies.
The only thing we can be certain of as a community is that we are in a waiting game, much like the rest of the political community and America in general. As President-elect Obama formulates his cabinet and staff and as new members arrive on Capitol Hill, new policy ideas will be formulated along with new questions and the general unknown as to what will happen come January 20, 2009 and beyond.
How will the financial crisis be handled? How will the two-fronted war be resolved? Will an era of bipartisanship be ushered in like President-elect Obama campaigned for? These are questions we can ask ourselves in the coming months and years. But we do not have to sit on the sidelines and ponder this. We can be active in our local, state, and national arenas advocating and championing our causes. We can be the forefront for shaping the new American policy arena in this time.